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CEMAC's trade policy review reveals among the lowest levels of intra-regional trade in Africa for this Community

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The World Trade Organisation (WTO) has completed the second Trade Policy Review of the Central African Economic and Monetary Community (CEMAC), whose findings are now available on its website. CEMAC is one of the few Customs Unions in Africa which, however, is not recognized by the African Union as one of the eight official Regional Economic Communities (RECs) in the continent. CEMAC replaced in 1994 the former Customs and Economic Union of Central Africa (Union douanière et économique d’Afrique centrale, UDEAC), which is one of the oldest regional groupings in Africa, established during the post-colonial era, in 1964, by Cameroon, Central African Republic (CAR), Congo, Gabon, Equatorial Guinea, and Chad.

CEMAC became fully operational only in June 1999, focusing its mandate on the promotion of intra-community trade and industrial cooperation by adopting a common customs legislation (like the UDEAC), but assuming characteristics that are typical of most sophisticated forms of economic integration, notably the monetary unions, as its members share a common currency, the CFA franc.

All the CEMAC countries are members of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), a subregional organization established in 1983 which also includes Angola, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), Rwanda, and Sao Tome and Principe. ECCAS was charged with creating a customs union after a minimum of 12 years, through the elimination of customs duties and the abolition of quantitative restrictions, but this stage of economic integration has not yet been achieved. Plans are also ongoing for merging in future CEMAC and ECCAS into a single entity within the end of this year, but this objective will be most probably missed.

Being a customs union, CEMAC has adopted a common external tariff (CET) which comprises 6,064 10-digit lines and five bands (0%, 5%, 10%, 20% and 30%), with an average rate of 18.3%, one of the highest in the continent. Moreover, the CEMAC CET is subject to numerous exceptions applied unilaterally by its members, that further complicate the tariff's real structure and compromise the functioning of the Customs Union. But this is not only the case of CEMAC. Similar problems also characterise the ECOWAS and the EAC Customs Unions, as the exceptions to the CET, also in these cases, are many, assuming the form of national import bans or derogations to the CET duty rates applied unilaterally by their members.

CEMAC also adopted a Customs Code which originates from the UDEAC Customs Code (adopted in 1965 with the Regulation N° 8/65-UDEAC-37 du 14 December 1965, and amended several times). The latest revision of the CEMAC Customs Code is dated 8 August 2019.

Among the main findings of the WTO Trade Policy Review, the intra-CEMAC trade is defined as particularly modest, reaching a miserable 3.5% threshold. However, the report also admits that as informal trade is highly prevalent in the border areas, this percentage does not reflect accurately the size of intra-regional trade in this Community. Generally, the WTO concludes that the low level of intra-Community trade is due to the nature of the products exchanged at international level, as most of CEMAC member States mainly export raw materials (which are typically destined out of the continent and not demanded by other countries in the region). Another cause is the industrial base in the CEMAC countries that similar to the transportation and communications infrastructure, is among the weakest in Africa. Numerous non-tariff barriers and a failure to apply certain Community provisions are indicated as other major barriers to trade.

Reading these information and data, one wonders how realistic is the achievement of a continental customs union in Africa as envisaged by the Abuja Treaty, at least in the short or medium term.

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